Centenary of Thomas Faed

Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser –  May 21, 1926.

The month of June this summer will possess a special interest for Galloway folks inasmuch as it brings round the centenary of Tom Faed, who was born at Gatehouse in June 1826, the junior by six years of his equally famous brother, John Faed. Those of us who have wandered thoughtfully around the domestic simplicity of the original birthplace and home of the brothers Faed at Barlay Mill, and visited also the beautiful house in St John’s Wood, London, in which Tom Faed had his studio, in which he died in the year 1900, surrounded “that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,” and leaving behind him an invaluable contribution to modern British art distributed among the foremost galleries at home and abroad, are reminded of Lowell’s lines on Lloyd Garrison: –

“O small beginnings, ye are great and strong.
Based on a faithful heart and weariless brain!”

Seldom does a like instance arise of the genius for painting being a family trait and declaring itself in three brothers, John, Tom, and James of the Faeds, and being continued on a scale of high distinction in the nephew of Tom Faed, the late James Faed junior, who succeeded to the London studio of To Faed, his uncle, whose early death was a distinct loss to art in Galloway. Happy is the boy who has an elder brother in whose footsteps of wisdom and skill he finds it easy to follow. Tom Faed found his way to his brother John in Edinburgh at the impressionable and acquisitive age of fifteen. He was enrolled there a student in the school of art, and had the late Sir W. Q. Orchardson for his fellow student and companion. His success was quick and genuine, for in 1849, at the young age of twenty-three, he was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. In the following year he made a palpable hit with his well-known group painting of “Scott and his friends at Abbotsford,” which was engraved by his brother, James Faed. In 1851, the year of the great exhibition, known as the Crystal Palace, held in Hyde Park, his work appeared for the first time in the Royal Academy; and his critics welcomed him for a new star of the north on the horizon of Victorian art. So complete was his success at the London Royal Academy that he felt warranted in migrating from Edinburgh to London immediately and in advance of his elder brother. From that date for nearly fifty years and in the full blaze of the throng of Victorian masters of the modern British school Tom Faed was a name naturalised in London, reflecting highest honour upon his native Galloway. Unlike John Faed, he was monopolized in his general interest by London, and the work devolved upon him as one of the R.A.’s responsible for the administration of the Royal Academy, and he never retired to Gatehouse, but was contented with the urban dignity and sylvan loveliness of the avenues in St John’s Wood and the environs of Regent’s Park.

Success took some getting for a Scottish painter in the London of the middle of the last century. At no date in the past were so many painters of cosmopolitan fame exhibiting their work in the Royal Academy, as was the case in those fifties and sixties of the nineteenth century, when Ruskin was in the Zenith of his power and fame in art criticism, and stood at the door of success in art like a sentinel letting no painter go through whose work in draughtsmanship and colour was not in the highest class. Three years after Tom Faed’s migration to London, in 1855, his reputation was established as a master in what is called the genre school of painting, the school that depicts homespun incidents in the daily life of the people, by his masterpiece of “The Mitherless Bairn,” which displayed his marvellous gift of pathos and his range of imagination, while the technique in light and shade and low tones was faultless. Thereafter he never looked behind him and experienced no difficulty in finding a profitable market for whatever picture he could produce. No false or manufacture sentiment was traceable in his subjects. He was sincere, conscientious, a devotee of the of the ideal truth of art, and his wide range of sympathy was expressed on canvas with fascinating dramatic skill. Laughter and tears, it has been truly said, lie side by side. Tom Faed’s gift of pathos as seen in “The Mitherless Bairn” was balanced by a rare endowment of humour. The writer recollects seeing his name on a catalogue opposite a picture bearing the title – “The Freedom of the Press.” What phase of journalism, one asked, lent itself to the painter? On getting to the picture the surprise was experienced of seeing in a domestic interior in humble life, a small boy in the foreground just caught by his grandmother trying to treat himself to some sugar furtively out of the household press! Obviously the painter had enjoyed his task of producing such a popular small canvas, and his sympathy seemed to have been with the baffled boy rather than the enraged grandmother.

Tom Faed’s successes, however, were mostly rather in pathos than in humour. Among his well known subjects, popular as engravings, were – “Home and the Homeless” – “The Last of the Clan” – “Ere Care Begins” – “ The First Letter from the Emigrant.” Some of his best work was reserved by purchase for the National Gallery, and several of those pictures have been transferred permanently to a niche among the examples of modern British painting in the Tate Gallery, an extension of the National Gallery, at Millbank, close to the Vauxhall Bridge, London. His three London pictures are among the popular works in the Gallery. The subjects are “Faults on Both Sides,” showing a young married couple seated together in an eloquent silence due to a tiff, and evidently making mutual confession of blame. There is a tradition in the Gallery that the male figure in the picture, tall, robust, a typical Gallovidian, is a portrait of the artist himself. The “Highland Mother,” a beautiful example of colour work in ideal portraiture drawn from humble life, is another of the three; and the most important of the little Faed group is – “The Silken Gown” at present (in 1926) on loan to an exhibition in Sheffield, painted from the ballad:-

“And ye shall walk in silk attire
And siller hae to spare,
Gin ye’ll consent to be his bride
Nor think of Donald mair.

Ah, wha wad buy a silken gown
Wi’ a poor broken heart?
Or what’s t’me a siller crown,
Gin frae my love I part?”

In the composition of the picture the mother is seen spreading the gown of flowered silk to tempt her daughter, the gown being the proffered gift of the wooer whom the daughter rejects for her “Donald,” while the well-to-do wooer, rejected, sits in the parlour in the background. A small sister is seen on the left, and a terrier looks on as if puzzled.

Tom Faed occupies a secure niche of fame in the history of modern British art as the chronicler par excellence of the simple annals of the peasantry among whom in the pleasant places of Galloway the lines of his early life were cast. His brush was inspired by the sentiment of Burns in the “Epistle to Dr Blacklock” : –

“To make a happy fireside clime
To weans and wife
That’s the true pathos and sublime
Of Human life.”